By Oliver Höner
After more than 30 years of absence, African wild dogs have been sighted again recently on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater! A group of four strong and healthy adult dogs roamed though the territory of the Forest clan on the western side of the Crater floor.
These are very exciting news because African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) went almost extinct in the Serengeti ecosystem in the 1990s. They are highly social and live in a complex social and breeding system that is quite different from that of all other social carnivores, including free-ranging domestic dogs.
Unfortunately, some of the characteristics of their social system makes it difficult for African wild dogs to repopulate areas with no or very low densities of wild dogs and highly fragmented areas. Wild dogs have been, and still are, persecuted by humans when they are seen as threat to domestic lifestock. Furthermore, there is strong evidence to suggest that invasive handling and vaccination have adverse effects that may even lead to the death of entire packs. And once packs are reduced to small sizes, and suitable habitats are fragmented and altered by humans, populations rarely recover. As a result, African wild dogs have gone extinct in many areas in Africa and are considered ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (see the website of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).
We hope that these iconic, beautiful and athletic carnivores feel comfortable in the Crater and stay for a long time to come!
On the social system of African wild dogs and the adverse consequences of invasive handling and vaccination: Websites of the Painted dog Research Trust and African Wild Dog Watch.
Scientific publications on African wild dogs and the Achille’s heel of sociality, Allee effects in cooperative breeders, and potential ecological traps.